Beginners Guide

A Quick Guide To The Ethics Of Photo Editing In Real Estate

A Quick Guide To The Ethics Of Photo Editing In Real Estate

With today’s technology it’s increasingly easier to edit real estate photos quickly and convincingly. So convincingly that it can really start to become an ethical issue if the editing in taken too far.

In this article I’ll share a quick guide to the ethics of photo editing in real estate and discuss what might be taking it too far.

Table of Contents

The Thin Line of Ethical Editing

Enhancement vs. Misrepresentation

The primary goal of photo editing in real estate is to present the property in the best possible light, correcting minor flaws such as poor lighting or a gloomy sky that were not representative of the property at the time of the shoot.

However, editing that alters the fundamental aspects of a property, like its structure, or hides significant problems, can quickly cross into unethical territory. The distinction lies in whether the editing changes the way a potential buyer perceives the property’s value or condition.

Examples of Unethical Editing

  1. Editing out permanent fixtures, power lines, or neighboring properties to make the listing appear more secluded or appealing than it actually is.
  2. Altering colors and textures to an unrealistic degree, masking the true age or condition of surfaces.
  3. Replacing the actual view from windows with oceanfront or cityscape views not only misrepresents the property’s location but also falsely elevates its potential value and desirability.

Possible Consequences of Unethical Photo Editing

Misleading Potential Buyers

The most immediate consequence of unethical photo editing is the potential to mislead buyers.

If buyers visit a property and find it significantly different from its listing photos, it can lead to distrust, disappointment, and a loss of interest, not just in the property but in the real estate agent or company representing it.

Violating MLS Regulations

Most MLS’s have strict guidelines on what constitutes acceptable photo editing. These rules are designed to ensure that all listings present a truthful and accurate depiction of properties.

Violating these guidelines can result in penalties for realtors, ranging from fines to suspension or even revocation of the right to list on the MLS.

Legal and Ethical Ramifications

Beyond MLS regulations, there are potential legal consequences for gross misrepresentation of a property through photo editing. Such actions can lead to lawsuits or other legal actions from misled buyers, further emphasizing the importance of adhering to ethical editing practices.

Best Practices for Ethical Real Estate Photo Editing

Be Transparent About Enhancements

When making significant edits that impact the presentation of a property, it’s best practice to be transparent about these enhancements in the property listing.

A simple disclaimer noting that certain images have been edited for lighting or clarity can maintain trust and transparency with potential buyers. You’ll regularly see this when photos have been virtually staged.

Focus on Restoration Rather Than Alteration

Aim to use photo editing to restore the image to how the scene looks in ideal conditions rather than altering it to present the property in an unrealistic manner.

This includes correcting lighting issues, enhancing natural colors, or removing temporary objects like vehicles or trash cans that are not permanent fixtures of the scene.

Adhere to MLS Guidelines

Familiarize yourself with the specific photo editing guidelines set forth by your MLS and ensure all edits comply with these rules. When in doubt, err on the side of minimal editing to avoid potential issues.

Consult with Clients

Before making significant edits, consult with your clients to ensure they are comfortable with the extent of the modifications. This collaboration can help maintain an ethical boundary and ensure the property is marketed in a way that aligns with the seller’s expectations and integrity.

Navigating the Gray Areas

Temporary vs. Permanent Features

Distinguishing between temporary and permanent features of a property is crucial in ethical photo editing. For example, removing a stain on a carpet (a temporary issue) is generally acceptable, whereas editing out a permanent structure like a telephone pole is not.

The Role of Disclosure

In cases where photo editing is used to showcase a property’s potential (e.g., virtually staging an empty room), full disclosure is essential. Clearly indicate to potential buyers which photos have been digitally altered to present a vision of what the property could look like.

Additional Resources

If you’re just getting started in real estate photography, check out our Beginners Guide. It’s full of helpful articles and tips that will guide you in the right direction as you begin your real estate photography journey.

You can check out our Gear section as well to see reviews and recommendations on the latest real estate photography gear.

If you’re more interested in other resources that can help your real estate photography business, check out our Business Resources page.

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About author
Matthew Digati is a professional Real Estate and Architectural Photographer. Matthew has worked as a Real Estate and Architectural Photographer since 2015 and has photographed properties and projects all over the United States.
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